Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spotlight, P.R., & the State of the Schools

Generally speaking, I am not a movie person.

It's rather ironic, then, that I am talking about movies twice in one week!

[The first time was last Friday, where I gave the Welcome at the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice fundraising breakfast, and talked about how Sandra Bullock's character in Miss Congeniality wants world peace, and how we know we can't just want world peace, we have to act on it. Check out ICPJ here.]

Probably my favorite movie of last year was the movie Spotlight. That's the movie about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I was fascinated by the work the reporters did to uncover the story, to build the case. If you were watching, though, there was a part that horrified me. (And no, it's not what you think--of course the scandal itself is horrifying--this is more subtle.) There's a part in the movie when 9/11 happens. (And yes, that too is horrifying--but again, this is more subtle.)

What happens to the reporters working on Spotlight when 9/11 happens? They get pulled off their project. Every one of them. [In the process, they upset many of the survivors/witnesses they had interviewed.] The project, uncovering the abuse scandal, languished.

And if that was the case in 2001, that is even more the case now.

Look at what happened in Flint! If not for the dedication of an investigative reporter hired by the ACLU (not the usual path for investigative journalism, to be hired by a nonprofit), who knows when this story would have seen the light of day! After it broke, some Flint MLive reporters and Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reporters have turned their attention to the story in Flint (and they've done an excellent job)--but I imagine that in doing so, they have been pulled off some equally important story, that in turn may never see the light of day.

We need to do a better job supporting investigative journalism. The model we have is not working, and investigative journalism is critical to our democracy.

Right now we have a single, new to town, education reporter for MLive in Ann Arbor. (Welcome, Lauren Slagter.) And yet in Washtenaw County we have over 46,000 K-12 students in our county, and thousands of school teachers/staff.

Meanwhile, Monet Tiedemann has been live blogging as many of the Ann Arbor school board meetings as she can at

But that's it.

The situation is similar, or worse, in Dexter, Chelsea (they have Chelsea Update, at least), Saline, Ypsilanti...


So if you've been paying attention, you will notice that Ann Arbor school administration--and to a lesser but notable extent, Chelsea, Dexter, Saline, and Ypsilanti school administration--have been putting a lot of effort into their own P.R. machines. You can see evidence of this on twitter, and facebook;  in emailed newsletters; and on their school web sites. Each of them, in their own way, are trying to promote their districts, share the good news about their districts, draw attention to their districts. And who can blame them? Journalists are few and far between.

So last week, Jeanice Swift organized a "State of the Ann Arbor Schools" event. She had the Community High band Tempus Fugit play, she had Rep. Jeff Irwin and County Commissioner Andy LaBarre speak, and she herself spoke.
Tempus Fugit playing at the State of the Schools.
L to R: Aidan Wada-Dawson, Jonathan Lynn, Aaron Willette,
Seamus Lynch, Danny Freiband, Avery Farmer.

Rep. Jeff Irwin speaking. He had my favorite line:
"Education is economic development."

And I think that organizing this event, from the point of view of promoting the school district, was a good idea. I do hope that next year the event will be held in one of our schools, and not on the second floor of a hotel with no easy parking. I do hope that next year the event will be widely promoted to parents, PTOs, etc. In other words, I'd like to see 200 citizens in addition to the 50 or so administrators and blue ribbon panel members that were there.

In full disclosure, I left before Jeanice Swift spoke, so I'm not sure what she said exactly. But based on the handouts, I imagine she talked about happy things, like the fact that graduation rates are improving, and that she discussed some of the new district initiatives.


In case you are wondering, I don't expect Jeanice Swift, in a State of the Schools event, to dwell on issues that are significant problems, and even if she does or did, I would expect her to give a PR perspective on it, because essentially, this is a PR event.

It's reasonable to expect that not everything is hunky-dory, and that it might require someone from the outside to look in and see what's not working. 

For instance: I think it's worth mentioning that the teachers I have spoken to are still quite upset about the time consuming and (in their opinion) ridiculous evaluation process they are now required to go through; still upset about the way the school board treated them last year during contract negotiations; worried about the way contract negotiations are going this year. And--many of them are afraid to speak out, feeling they have been implicitly threatened.

The point is this: there are a lot of great things going on in the Ann Arbor schools (and in the other local districts, too). But there are also things that don't fit the narrative of a PR machine, and they don't show up in a State of the Schools event. 

We expect that we will learn about them through the media--and at this point, I'm not really sure that's possible.

So who knows what we are missing?!

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Friday, May 6, 2016

State House Burns Detroit Schools in Middle of Night Session

While we were sleeping, the State House Republicans pushed through some awful legislation that burns the Detroit schools. (In case you are wondering, the State Senate legislation is better, although in my opinion it is not better enough. But it is bipartisan.)

Pushed through. At 4:30 in the morning. That's a great time for decision-making, right?

Phone lines are open: Feel free to call House Speaker Kevin Cotter and give him a piece of your mind. Phone: 517-373-1789; Email: 

The point, people, is that we would never. ever. ever. accept what they are doing to the Detroit Schools as equitable or just or reasonable or in the students' interests in Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Okemos, East Grand Rapids...OR EVEN IN schools with a higher percentage of students of color like Southfield or Ypsilanti. 

Never. Ever. And that's because it's not equitable, just, reasonable, or in the students' interests.

[For instance--would we accept saying that all of the teachers have to apply for their jobs back, no guarantees, no union, and if they don't get them back, or don't apply, we can bring in uncertified teachers to teach our kids? I don't think so.]

And it's the same shameful thinking--death of a thousand cuts--that brings us the Flint lead crisis.

Which--in an educational sense--we will be paying for, for many years, because kids with lead poisoning will need special education services, which are mandated. [And by the way, a little shout out to all the Washtenaw County voters who said yes to the special education millage. Totally off topic, but...phew! We needed that.] Back to Detroit, where the schools probably need that money more.

What we can be proud of, folks, is the House Democratic caucus. There were some outstanding speeches. I am just sorry that some folks are either too thick skulled or too "in the pocket" of special interests (yes, I'm talking about the DeVos family agenda) to listen.

But do listen to the speeches:

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit, and former DPS teacher:

"The package today builds on that foundation of institutional racism."

Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing:

"Just because you say it's about the kids, doesn't mean it's about the kids."

Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor:

From his Facebook post:  
In the middle of the night, House Republicans rammed through a partisan package of bills created specifically to set Detroit Public Schools down a path of continued systemic financial and academic inadequacy. 
This package is intentionally designed to provide inadequate debt service toDPS, to incorporate uncertified teachers in their classrooms and to allow the continued proliferation of unchecked, low-quality schools in the City of Detroit. 
It's despicable, low-down and dirty politics to satisfy the sick desires of one family on the west side of the state. The House Republican's plan reflects that they are bought and paid for.

Last, but not least--

Seth Meyers, of Late Night with Seth Meyers, stands with Detroit teachers:

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Please Vote Yes: Washtenaw County Special Ed. Millage May 3

Tuesday May 3d the county has a special education millage on the ballot. 

It's the only thing on the ballot, and it's critical that it passes. 

It will support special education services in all of our county districts--and since special education services are mandated and have to be supported whether funded or not--we also support general education by voting yes. All of the funds will stay local.

Students up to age 26 are eligible to receive special education services. Your YES vote means public schools in Washtenaw County can support the 6,500 students who count on these services without eliminating programs that benefit ALL students. 

Unfortunately, the Washtenaw County Republican Party voted to oppose this millage. 

Please don't let the "No" votes win.

For several of our districts, it is the difference between deficit budgets and break-even budgets.

Read more here.

Support our schools--join me in voting yes!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Guest Post: Teachers, Statistics, and Teacher Evaluation

Have I mentioned that I love guest posts? 

Priti Shah, an AAPS parent and a UM psychology professor read a version of this during public commentary at a school board meeting, and she followed her comments up as a formal letter. I liked it so much that I asked if I could post it here. The reason I asked is that I think we need to understand what good evaluation would mean, and why the system being imposed on teachers by the school district is not a good system. And by the way, if you have never spoken at public comment (or haven't recently), I encourage it!

Dear Ann Arbor School Board Members:

This letter follows up on my comments during the public comment period of the Ann Arbor School Board meeting in January 2016. I spoke about the new teacher evaluation system.

As a reminder, I’m the parent of two children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools (11th and 6th grade). I am also a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, and my research areas are in cognition and cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology. I base my comments on my feelings as a parent as well as based on the research evidence regarding teacher evaluations.
Priti Shah

The reason I wanted to speak was because I am very concerned about the climate of respect and collaboration teachers and administration that has been eroding in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the impact on our children.

I start with three assumptions: 
(1) we all want the very best teachers possible,  
(2) we all want them to have the resources they need to provide the best possible educational experiences for each of our children, and 
(3) we want to be able to do all that without wasting our hard-earned resources. 

I strongly believe in setting high expectations and rewarding high quality work.  And as an educational scientist, I believe very much in high quality, research-supported teacher evaluation.  High quality evaluation should be valid (that is, someone who is rated as a “good” teacher should actually be a good teacher and someone who is rated as a “bad” teacher should actually be a bad teacher) and reliable (that is, evaluation shouldn’t change too much depending on who is in one classroom or which day the assessment occurs). Validity is a very hard nut to crack, because it depends fundamentally on one’s definition of what a good teacher is.

The new teacher evaluation system relies on two components: (1) student growth on a menu of standardized tests and (2) the Charlotte Danielson teacher evaluation system.  I would like to outline my concerns with respect to both of these approaches in terms of validity and reliability.

Student Growth

While I understand that incorporating student growth into teachers’ evaluations is mandated by state law, I want to highlight that the use of student growth—and how a teacher contributes to that growth--is problematic from a statistical perspective.  The American Statistical Association, in their policy statement on the issue, point to numerous concerns with respect to using student growth data for teacher evaluation purposes.  Most studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Student growth measures are not highly reliable, in other words. 

Most studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in 

test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found 

in the system-level conditions. Student growth measures are not highly 

reliable, in other words.  

A good teacher may look like a bad teacher depending on the composition of students in his or her class.  A group of Ann Arbor students in AP English may not show huge growth on a standardized English test because those students are already performing at ceiling on the test; their teacher might be rated as ineffective because there was no growth.  A teacher whose students may need safety and security (and warm coats and breakfast) may do an outstanding job and yet the circumstances that they are dealing with might lead to minimal growth on a standardized test. 

Another problem with using test scores to evaluate teachers is that relevant test scores are not available for many subjects taught by teachers-- my children have taken outstanding courses in subjects for which there are no standardized tests used: engineering design; communications, media and public policy; orchestra; art.  Some of these teachers will only interact with students once a week for an hour.  Evaluating these teachers on the performance of their students in subjects that they do not teach, and students that they rarely see, is absurd.

Furthermore, there is good support for the idea that teachers change their practices in light of these high stakes evaluations, often removing activities that promote critical thinking and creativity to spend more time on tested materials.

Most importantly, growth rates for different years for the same teachers vary widely, suggesting that these measures are not very reliable indicators of teacher quality and highly influenced by exactly which random kids they are teaching. And unfortunately, students will spend increasing amounts of time, and the district increasing amounts of money on high stakes tests that assess learning to the detriment of resources spent on other activities.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools would like to focus on growth for the bottom 1/3 of students in hopes that this will be an incentive to reducing the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, having 1/3 of the data to work with will mean a massive reduction in the possible reliability of the data because of smaller sample size.  And the bottom 1/3 is a dramatically different benchmark standard across teachers (i.e., you cannot compare growth across teachers if one is using the bottom 33% of the students in AP English and another the bottom 33% of students in guitar).

The Charlotte Danielson Framework

The second proposed component of the new teacher evaluation system is the Charlotte Danielson Framework. On the surface, this is a reasonable measure that involves administrators evaluating teachers on a systematic set of 76 items that are likely to be positively associated with teacher quality. 

Again, a good measure of teaching quality an assessment requires two key features: it needs to be reliable – in that the same teacher would be rated the same across time by different people—and valid—that is, that a good score on the means someone really is a good teacher.  Unfortunately, the reliability or validity of this framework is just not clear, based on the extant evidence.  Sure, you’ll hear some relatively high numbers from the people who sell the Danielson system but they are based on expert coders watching the same lessons on video.  Consider rating a baseball player for 15 minutes during a game.  If he makes a home run that day, your two independent raters will rate him similarly. If he strikes out, the two independent raters will rate him low. It’ll look like your rating system is highly reliable. That’s how reliability of these observational methods is tested. This is just one of many problems associated with such classroom observation methods.  

I point the board to a 2012 article in Education Researcher by Harvard School of Education Professor and University of Michigan PhD Heather Hill for a more technical discussion of these and related concerns. And at the same time I appeal to your common sense: Look at the rubrics and ask yourself—have you ever had a terrible teacher who could check off all the boxes and look like an “effective” teacher because they could use the right lingo and implement the criteria superficially?  Have you ever had a stellar educator who inspired and motivated you to succeed but didn’t see eye to eye with the administrators’ views on how classroom seating could be organized? Might there be a teacher who can shine during such a formal evaluation process but shows active disdain for some students throughout the school year?

I appreciate the extreme difficulty but necessity of evaluating teacher effectiveness, but I can confidently state that just by moving from rating teacher on one subset of the criteria annually to rating them on all four will not necessarily positively impact the reliability or validity of the measure. Indeed, it is likely to reduce the quality of the ratings, the validity of the measures, while simultaneously increasing burden on teachers and administrators. Just because there are more items does not mean an assessment is better.   Neither do I think that the vast majority of highly effective experienced teachers are going to change and become less effective. At my own job, our evaluations become less frequent with greater seniority; this makes sense to me.


Given that teachers must be evaluated, and that none of the proposed methods are particularly reliable or valid, I would probably use a combination of metrics as proposed by the school board. However, I would (1) try to minimize burden on the teachers and administrators (as in, not that many hours of time), (2) involve teachers in decision making at all phases (to get input on what they think should be included and what is reasonable and won’t distract them from their real work), (3) include not just administrator evaluations but peer evaluations (that is, ratings of other teachers, who often know more about what goes on in classrooms), and (4) consider also input of parents and students.   

A proud mama moment: my son wrote an article advocating the inclusion of student ratings of teachers for the Skyline Skybox (; while I think student evaluations can be problematic in some situations, he makes an excellent point.   Student evaluations, based on specific questions regarding teaching effectiveness (not just “was this a good class” but whether the teacher seemed to care, whether students respect the teacher, and so forth) can actually be better predictors of student growth than observational methods.  And I can tell you that parents in our community are pretty well informed regarding which teachers seem engaged, caring, and effective. Parent and student surveys are cheap.


We need to start with some basic assumptions in revamping the teacher evaluation system in Ann Arbor.

My first assumption is that most of our teachers are smart, hard working, and caring professionals. I have observed far, far, more excellence in the Ann Arbor Schools classrooms on my many visits and interactions with teachers than I have experienced ineffective teaching.

Second, the Ann Arbor school system needs to maintain its leadership position regarding school administration and governance as well as quality schools.  The reason we have such outstanding teachers is that they want to work in our district.  We want to attract the very best teachers, not drive them away with unnecessary busywork.  Let’s interpret our state’s laws in a manner best suited to our teachers and students instead of jumping through hoops that may well be unnecessary.

Finally, let’s all agree that we want to expend our time and money on what helps our children learn, and that we do not want more and more of our money go to for profit testing companies, consultants to train administrators and run workshops teachers on evaluation rubrics, software so that administrators can rapidly rate teachers on numerous criteria quickly in the classroom at the press of a button.

Thanks for your time, and I’m happy to have a longer conversation with anyone who would like to talk to me.


Priti Shah

A few references:

Hill, H. C., Charalambous, C. Y., & Kraft, M. A. (2012). When rater reliability is not enough teacher observation systems and a case for the generalizability study. Educational Researcher, 41(2), 56-64.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Election Day: My High School's Polling Place

Here in Ann Arbor, we have the relatively simple and yet apparently not too likely to be tampered with paper ballots. They are easy to fill out, keep the lines moving, and there is a paper record if there ever needs to be a recount. Filling in the little circles today did kind of remind me of standardized testing, but that's not my complaint.

I went to a high school where the middle school was attached, and there was a polling place in a quiet corner of the high school. Of course (or maybe not of course--does it happen today?) visiting the polling place was definitely part of the grade 7-12 social studies curriculum.

Plus, if I would go with my parents, when I was little, to vote--there was a certain magic of going behind the private curtain (was it velvet? I think it might have been), pulling the private levers, and when you walked out of the booth, nobody knew who you were voting for.

And I know, rationally, that the system we have in Ann Arbor is much more secure than those old voting machines.

And I know, rationally, that these little booths are much easier for the clerks to move around from precinct to precinct.

And I know, rationally, that it is much easier to expand the number of booths in high volume elections.


When I was a kid, those voting booths were magical, and even today, I miss them.

By Pauljoffe at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Ask the Ann Arbor School Board to Vote No on Tuition-Based Program

I was surprised--and not happily--to see this headline from the Ann Arbor News:

Tuition-based Program Would Bring Chinese Students to Ann Arbor High Schools.

The key things to know, from the article:

A new plan* proposed to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education Wednesday evening would place up to 200 students from China in the city's high schools each year...The district is considering a partnership with BCC International Education Group, a Chinese-American company that has already created similar programs bringing Chinese high school students to Dexter and Saline.
*This idea (or something quite similar) was actually discussed, and rejected, a few years ago in the Pat Green era.

Here's the letter I just sent to the school board. You can send emails to the school board at:

Dear Board of Ed-- 

I'm writing to ask you to oppose the proposed contract with a firm to bring in up to 200 Chinese tuition-paying students. 
We already have at least two exchange programs in the schools--Youth for Understanding and AFS--both programs devoted to bringing students from around the world, including--among many other countries--China. Did you know that YFU started in Ann Arbor as an exchange program with Germany post-World War II? Or that AFS's origins lie in the aftermath of World War I with a similar goal of inter-cultural understanding?  
Ann Arbor also hosts the USA's U-18 hockey program.  
I'm not sure exactly how many students come through these three programs but I think it's something in the range of 100 students.  
All of these programs rely on host family volunteers, and it's not so easy to find them. I know intimately what is involved, because we hosted a student from Sweden last year and a student from Uruguay the year before, both with YFU. Both were great experiences but it does involve a fair bit of work, and (I know I'm repeating myself) it's not easy to find host families.  
I asked several families this year if they could take a student, and none of them felt they were in a position to do it. And, in fact, just today I got an email asking for a host family for a student who needs to leave his current family--and that happens too, sometimes, in the middle of the year. 
I do understand the desire to bring in money for the district, but I don't think this is a good way. And I would say this even if I hadn't heard, today, that the Oxford School District has had a very negative experience with this company.  
With the current exchange programs the student in my house brought in the same per-pupil funding as every other student in the district, thus adding to the district's census.  
I'm asking you to vote no on this. 
Ruth Kraut

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ypsilanti History: The Desegregation of Ypsilanti Schools

While it's still Black History Month I thought I would feature this interesting blog (and history of Ypsilanti schools) that I recently stumbled upon.

The information here comes from a blog about South Adams Street at the turn of the twentieth century. As the blog notes, "South Adams Street @ 1900 was created by Matthew Siegfried as a Masters project of Eastern Michigan University's Historic Preservation Program. Readers are encouraged to write with any questions or additions. Walking tours and presentations are available.
A special shout-out goes to the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives, which provided a lot of the information Matthew Siegfried used. They welcome visitors, and I've done some research in them (particularly around Begole School). The archives have lots of great information. Find out more about them here
Today's topic is the First Ward School, and the full web site about it can be found here. [The author of the web site, Matthew Siegfried, has written about a lot more than just the First Ward School.]

The old First Ward School, on Adams Street, was built during the Civil War specifically for the purpose of educating black children. 

On September 10, 1897, the Ann Arbor Argus reported that "Ypsilanti has 1778 children of school age of which 155 are colored, a gain of three colored children and 10 white over last year."

Recorder, August 1916.
Photo by Matthew Siegfried.
Used under a Creative
Commons license.
As Siegfried characterizes it, "What began as a statement of support for black residents during the Civil War" became a symbol of segregation by the early 1900s, exclusively educating black students through sixth grade.

The school was not in good condition and things came to a head in 1916, when the black residents of Ypsilanti petitioned the prosecuting attorney, as taxpayers, for better schools. They objected to paying for the new Ypsilanti high school when their school was in such poor condition. 

The petition began:
We, the undersigned colored citizens of the city of Ypsilanti, residing in the First ward of said city, hereby petition you as an officer of the county to investigate the action of the school board of the city of Ypsilanti. We are paying a large tax for the building of a new school house. It is used for white to the exclusion of colored children. Our school, a ward school in the First ward, has no connection with the sewer, it is unsanitary and not healthful, but we are compelled, because we are colored and the board of education is white, to put up with whatever they hand us.
The school house is not sufficient or satisfactory. Do we get new? No, simply get an old discarded and poor building moved from another part of the city and placed out in the dusty street, or nearly so. It is within five feet of the street line, and thus cuts off our view down the street. Part of the time we have had undesirable teachers, part of that time poorly qualified, but we have to take it. 

Notes Siegfried, 

A bond was proposed by the [sic--but I think it was proposed by the school board and] voted down, with support of the black community, that would have rehabilitated the school while increasing the grades taught, effectively expanding segregation under the guise of aiding the school. The community was adamant; it wanted an end to segregation... Detroit attorney and NAACP leader Charles Mahoney, who later worked on the Ossian Sweet Case, led the legal challenge. The bond initiative was also opposed at the ballot box and defeated. The case was won in Judge Sample’s Circuit Court and Ypsilanti schools were formally desegregated in May, 1919. The First Ward school closed that year. 

The 1919 American School Board Journal explained things like this: 

The important question, in the court’s judgment, was whether the school was being conducted by the board for the children of negro parents of the ward In such a way as to compel the children, because they are colored, to attend the school, and at the same time to permit white children of the district to attend outside schools.The court maintained that the maintenance of the school was an act of discrimination against the colored children and that in view of the provisions of the Michigan law, it was a violation of the common law of the state and of the statutes of the state. The court cited a number of important decisions from Supreme Court cases to support its contention that all residents of a state have an equal right to attend any school and that they may not be discriminated against because of race or color.
The building is now the New Jerusalem Church.

Here are some more newspaper articles from the South Adams Street 1900 web site. 

Three additional notes:

1. Nearly one hundred years later, Ypsilanti Community Schools is a majority African-American district. Four years ago, I wrote: "It is important to remember that school segregation--though banished by law--still exists in many many schools around the nation." I wouldn't exactly call YCS a segregated district, but there are plenty of people who live in the district who send their children to schools--public, charter, or private--in other districts--and many of those families are white.

2. The First Ward School was referred to as the Adams Street School. This is not to be confused with the current Adams Elementary--which was originally named Prospect School. It was renamed in 1963 after Olive M. Adams, who was retiring from the school after being principal there for 29 years.

3. I knew about efforts to desegregate the Ann Arbor schools--in fact I've written extensively about them--but I never heard of this really significant (and successful!) lawsuit in Ypsilanti.

[And that, by the way, is in my opinion a signature of Ypsilanti--there's lots of super-interesting history, stores, museums, and parks in Ypsi--and unless you look closely, you might miss them.] For instance, do you know where this statue of  Harriet Tubman can be found? 
Sculpture by Jane DeDecker,
photograph by Dwight Burdette
[CC BY 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Understanding the Impact of the Governor's Budget Proposal on Michigan Schools

Michigan Parents for Schools has a detailed summary of the Governor's budget proposal and its impact on Michigan schools.

I'm including a few excerpts here, and then you should really read the whole thing. With these state proposals, the devil is n the details.

Per-pupil funding underlines the distribution of school funds. 

The governor's executive budget recommendation is headlined by a modest increase in per-pupil funding. Districts at the current minimum level of $7,391 - which includes some 60% of all students - would receive $120 more per pupil for their general operating needs. Districts at or above the state maximum (currently $778 higher or $8,169) would get an increase of $60 per pupil.
Districts at the current minimum level of funding: think Manchester and Whitmore Lake.
Districts at or above the state maximum: think Ann Arbor.

Compare this to the year my daughter was born (which is also the year Proposal A started): 

Put another way, the small number of districts which were at the bare minimum spending level when Proposal A took effect in 1994 are still doing better than when they started, adjusted for inflation, but they have not recovered the levels they saw in 2010-11. Districts which started out at the "basic" level of funding ($5,000 in 1994) have lost some ground and are below where they started in 1994, adjusting for inflation, wiping out the gains from the first decade of this century. Districts at the higher end have done even worse: if they received what was the state maximum in 1994 ($6,500), they have lost ground against inflation nearly every year since then and the draft budget would let them buy about 17% less now than they were able to 22 years ago. (Emphasis added. Yes, that describes Ann Arbor.)
Retirement funding significantly affects school district resources.

Costs of the state-run school employee retirement system (MPSERS) continue to have a major impact on the budget. Unfortunately, unlike some other states, Michigan does not cover these costs from other funding sources, but instead uses money from the school aid budget. The cost of funding the retirement system has risen astronomically in recent years, and not because benefits are getting richer. As districts shed teachers and other staff in downsizing, and as more services are privatized, there are fewer employees paying into the system while the number of retirees is growing. . . As a result, contributions equal to about 36% of payroll have to be made by the state and school district employers (employees also make their own contributions). Ten years ago, this rate stood at a little over 16%.  (Emphasis added.)
Who was RIchard Headlee and why should you care?
Image used under a Creative Commons license
and taken from here.

Read the rest here. There is much more.

A lot of people think this stuff is a bit boring. And complicated.

Even if you are one of those people, you should know that it's essential for us to wrap our heads around 20j, the Headlee Amendment, plans for Detroit and Flint schools (among others), funding for charter schools, and how funding for higher education interacts with the School Aid Fund.

They are our schools--but only if we claim them.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Inspirer Speaks: Washtenaw's National African American Parent Involvement Day 2016

National African American Parent Involvement Day is Monday, February 8th. 
Most local schools are doing something. 

Joe Dulin
The email I got from Community High has coffee and bagels in the morning, an invitation to stop in to any of your children's classes, as well as afternoon activities. It is open to all parents who are interested in getting a better sense of their children in school--not just African American parents. Obviously the details vary by school, but I think it's important to note that the opportunity is there for you to visit your child's school and classes. [You know "Take Your Child to Work Day?" This is the opposite! "Take Your Parent to School!"]

Joe Dulin, who died in 2014, was an Ann Arbor educator and the principal at Roberto Clemente school. He was also the originator of NAAPID.

Noted Dulin, in an undated article,

Ayinde Jean-Baptiste
NAAPID is not just for black people –– it’s for all people,” Dulin says. “It comes during Black History Month, and I thought it was a tremendous time to introduce it as a project for parents to get into our schools to exchange notes, phone numbers, emails, have conversations and get in touch with the teachers.”
Dulin was inspired to create a parent involvement day after going to the Million Man March in 1995. “A young man named Ayinde Jean-Baptiste, then 12 years old, was one of the speakers, and he challenged us to go back to our communities and do something,” Dulin says. “I got the feeling that, out of a million men, he was looking at me.” When he returned home, he gathered up some friends and family and NAAPID was born.

Now the reason I find this so interesting is that the email from Community High notes that there will be a:

Community-wide NAAPID event, "NAAPID at Night," in the Ypsilanti Middle School auditorium, 6 p.m., 235 Spencer Lane, Ypsilanti, MI. Details here. And the speaker will be Ayinde Jean-Baptiste, the then-child who inspired Joe Dulin to start NAAPID!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Guest Post: A Parent Reviews Her Child's M-STEP Results, and Learns...

A guest post by Naomi Zikmund-Fisher about the M-STEP results, and what they mean.

Last week, we finally received my children’s scores from the M-STEP test they took last spring. My son, a fourth grader at the time (now 5th) and my daughter, a high school Junior (now senior) both took the test. For more on that decision, you can read here.

In the interest of maintaining some of their privacy, I’m not going to share how my kids did on the test. More to the point, it probably doesn’t matter how they did on the test, as their performance on this first round appears to be being largely discarded.

As a former teacher and administrator, I probably know more about how to read a score report than most parents. Theoretically, I should be able to get all there is to get out of these scores. So, here’s what I learned from looking at my children’s score reports:

  1. Last spring, my children were doing about as well in their academic progress as their teachers said they were. There were no real surprises. You could have looked at their report cards and gotten the same information that M-STEP gives you.

  1. That information is wildly out of date. They took this test in a window from March to May. I got the scores in January. Whatever new information may have been useful in the scores is no longer pertinent.

  1. The science and social studies tests measure curriculum alignment more than anything else. They are broken out by different smaller subjects (e.g. physical science, life science or economics, geography). You can see that in this sample of a child’s 4th grade science scores.

Sample M-Step information provided to parents, in this case for the science test.

When they say a child is proficient, what does that mean?

My children did best in areas that they had studied recently and worst in those from previous years. In other words, this test measured what classes they were taking, not anything about my children or about whether their teachers were teaching well.

  1. The target area for “proficient” is, in some cases, shockingly small. Scores are reported graphically (among other ways) on a continuum of four ranges. Proficient is the second to the top and is the smallest area, sometimes by quite a bit.

But shouldn’t “just fine” be a fairly broad range of kids? When did we stop recognizing that “normal” isn’t a single point, it’s a spectrum?

Sample of information provided to parents. Note that the grey "margin of error" overlaps both the "partially proficient" and advanced categories, meaning that a child who scores in the yellow/gray overlap as "partially proficient" might actually be "proficient" on another day. Note also that the green ball of "proficient" is a much smaller area than the bars for not proficient, partially proficient, or advanced.

This picture shows the score graphic for the same student whose subject scores were above. This child is supposedly proficient in 4th grade science [the score is right in the middle of the green bubble]. As you can see, this is quite a feat, since the “Proficient” range is about 5.5% of the total.

What’s more, while it’s great that the score report acknowledges a “margin of error” around the score, that margin is substantially larger than the target itself. This means that three kids who score as “partially proficient,” “proficient,” and “advanced” might all know exactly the same amount of science. We sing the praises of one (and the wonderful teacher who taught her) while wringing our hands about another (and the mediocre educator she had) when there is truly no difference at all.

In the end, what I realize once again is that this data is designed to measure districts and schools much more than to give us any useful information about individual children. Even without the huge delay in score reporting, the amount of useful information, that you can’t find more easily somewhere else, about a single child is minimal.

It’s reasonable to say that the measure of a school or a district is how well its children are prepared for the next phase of life. The problem is, we’re substituting this test for the real answer to that question. We’re asking our kids to take hours upon hours of tests – time they could spend actually learning something – in service of measuring their school system.

If we already know how they’re going to do on the tests, then we already know what the answer we’re going to get will be. And if we don’t already know how they’re going to do on the tests, it’s either a really bad test or a school so out of touch with students that it should be obvious in multiple other ways.

I can say unequivocally, however, as an educator and as a parent, that the M-STEP given last spring was just plain a waste of my children’s time.